Sunday, December 4, 2022

Lobster tails are complicated


Who would have thought that shopping for lobster tails would be complicated? Expensive, maybe, but it was indeed complicated. I am in the market for nine 8 ounce tails for a Christmas Eve dinner in Chicago. I live in Rochester, NY and will be flying to Chicago. 

I have run across three different types of lobster tails. As they are referred to in the continental United States: cold-water (North Atlantic such as Maine and Nova Scotia), warm-water (Carribbean), and Australian (rock or spiny lobster tails from langouste near North Australia). There are more, but in my shopping and research, these are the types I have came across.

Cold-water tails are preferred by Americans. Cold water reduces the saltiness of the meat, and the meat stays uniformly firm. The taste is not fishy and the color is uniformly white. The shell is uniformly reddish. Warm-water tails are saltier, the meat color varies, and the shells are spotty. Australian lobsters have no claws and are a blue-green color, and the tail meat can be stringy.

Tails are sold frozen, unless you get a whole, live lobster. I can get a frozen 8 ounce, cold-water tail for $36 per pound in Rochester, NY, i.e., $18 per tail. That's approximate, depending on the exact weight.

There are many online sellers of lobster tails. The best price I could find is $36 per tail. Frozen seafood is normally shipped overnight with dry ice. Dry ice emits a gas, so the shipping container must be ventilated, and the shippers have strict and expensive requirements. This makes online purchases very expensive. Unless a shopper lives in a very remote place but can somehow get overnighted deliveries, I am not sure why anyone would shop online for lobster tails. It is cheaper to drive a hundred miles one way to a market than to shop online.

The price of a cold-water tail at markets in Chicago is substantially more expensive than Rochester. I called several Chicago fish markets. If I could find an 8 ounce cold-water tail at all, it was over $25. The most reliable deal for acquiring 9 tails was listed at $65 per pound. For nine 8 oz. tails (assuming the shop would split a pre-wrapped package of two), that's $292, versus $162 in Rochester (where the shop promised a purchase of nine is possible). Big box stores carry lobster tails, but the tail size varies and the tails are usually "previously frozen", meaning frozen, thawed and refrozen.

If I purchase the tails in Rochester, I need to get them to Chicago. I could ship them with ice packs (without dry ice), and that would likely be reliable under normal conditions. But, it's December. Shipping anything in December is complicated. Even early in the month, weather delays can occur. Later in the month, shippers won't take responsibility for a frozen seafood shipment.

However, our airline allows traveling with frozen seafood. Wrap the tails in plastic, pack in a plastic container with blue-ice (not wet ice), and wrap the container in plastic. (Dry ice can be used with special packaging, but there is a $150 charge.) At home, I found an appropriate box and a gigantic, zip-lock travel bag. Door to door, the trip is six hours or less, which will be fine. We will "check" the bag in which the box will be packed, so the tails will be in the baggage compartment, which will be cool in December if not below freezing. Our airline does not accept responsibility for frozen seafood in checked bags, but it's a non-stop, 2 hour flight, so it is low risk that the bag could be lost.

We'll see if the controversy about white whales being endangered by lobster traps has any impact.